Don’t rate Jesus by the failings of His followers

I don’t have a good feeling about politicians. It doesn’t matter what side they take, what party lines they walk, what policies they promote, I just have a hard time trusting them. But you know what? I don’t know any politicians. I’ve never met one, not really. Never spent time with one. Never shaken hands with one. I had lunch at the governor’s mansion in Topeka once while I was in college. We were visiting for Associated Press Day in my beat reporting class, and I saw the governor across the room, but I didn’t speak to her.

So how can I say that I don’t trust politicians when I don’t know any? Well, I know of them. I hear them speak. I see the damage they do. I watch them break their word over and over again. So in my distant, third-person perspective of politicians, they can’t be trusted. But is that any way to rate someone’s trustworthiness? Just because other people “like” them aren’t trustworthy, does that make them untrustworthy too?

DV0EKCTSGSToday’s verses are Romans 3:3-4.

True, some of them were unfaithful; but just because they were unfaithful, does that mean God will be unfaithful? Of course not! Even if everyone else is a liar, God is true. As the Scriptures say about him, “You will be proved right in what you say, and you will win your case in court.”

People seemed to be running into this same conundrum when it comes to God during the writing of the Book of Romans. Paul addresses the unfaithfulness of people who’d been trusted with God’s Word, how they hadn’t done what they were supposed to do. But Paul’s statement is that just because people let you down, you should assume God will too.

I can’t speak for politicians, and maybe that’s a silly example. But I tend to lump people into groups. Maybe I stereotype them. Legalistic Christians. Good Church People. Mac Lovers. Engineers. Homeschoolers. Bad Influences.

Stop laughing at me. You do it too. Maybe your labels are different, but we all are guilty of categorizing people.

But just because one Legalistic Christian hurt your feelings doesn’t mean that the next Legalistic Christian you meet will do the same. Just because one Mac Lover annoys the crap out of you doesn’t mean the next Mac Lover you encounter will too.

The same principle is true with God. There are a lot of people who claim to follow God, but they go around hurting people, making life difficult, causing conflict at home, in the workplace, at school. Some folks who claim to be Christians lie and cheat and steal. They don’t respect authorities. They are bad influences on people. And they’re unrepentant about it.

But you know what? Just because a Christian acts that way doesn’t mean God is pleased with him or her. God has a specific list of traits that He expects His children to live by, and just because someone calls themselves a Christian doesn’t mean they’re actually living like one.

Many people have been hurt by Christians, and that’s a sad thing. But just because a Christian fouls up doesn’t mean that Jesus will too. An ambassador can be a poor representative of his country. So too a Christian can be a poor representative of Christ.

So the next time you are tempted to give up on God because you had a bad experience with one of His followers, think twice. People are people, and God is God. People will let you down, but God never will.

People are like icebergs

Imagine yourself in a small group. Doesn’t have to be church related. Maybe it’s a social club or a work event, and the goal at your table or in your particular circle of chairs is to get to know each other better. What three questions do people ask most frequently? In my experience, it’s name, occupation, and favorite movie. Or maybe favorite dessert (right, Tour Guides?).

Sure, it’s a great ice breaker. Yeah, it’s an easy, non-threatening way to get people talking. But come on. Can you really get to know someone better from those three things?

Names are always fascinating, but in today’s society, a name doesn’t mean the same thing it used to. And a job? Sure, jobs can tell you a lot about somebody, but a job is usually just a title. I’ve learned is that a job title is always only the top layer of someone.

And movies? Maybe in some cases you can learn a lot about someone from the movies they watch, but you can’t learn where a person is at in their lives simply because they enjoy a certain movie.

It’s tempting, though. It’s easy to put people in boxes because they’re easier to control there. In our own minds, if we label and organize people according our assumptions about them, they aren’t threatening anymore. Maybe I do that because I’m an insecure introvert, or maybe it’s more widespread than that.

Whether everyone does it or it’s just me, it’s not a good idea. People are like icebergs, and the real person underneath extends much father below the surface than you can see at a glance.

IcebergToday’s verse is 1 Samuel 16:7 (again).

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

I just blogged on this verse last week, but there’s no better statement I know to illustrate what God is reminding me of today. No matter what I see on the outside, a person is much more on the inside. And maybe I can’t see that, but God can.

When you meet someone new, do you automatically classify them in your brain? Do you categorize them or put them on mental shelves or file them away to be examined later? I do. And, honestly, I’m not even sure that approach is wrong.

It’s important to make a judgment call about the people you choose to get close to. If you want to stop partying, it’s not a good idea to strike up a close friendship with a partier. That’s a bad example, but you get the point. Sometimes you have to judge a relationship based on actions, and in many cases, that’s wise.

But if someone tells you their favorite movie or book or even job title, does that give you any insight into his or her heart? Absolutely not! But it’s tempting to see it that way.

You hear someone is a factory worker or a car mechanic, and what do you think? You hear someone is a banker or a stock broker, what do you think? You hear someone is a school teacher or a state employee, what do you think?

We like labels because once we label people, they aren’t threatening to us. Or at least we think they aren’t. That’s the funny thing about icebergs. Even if you label them harmless, they can still sink unsinkable ships.

A person’s heart is usually always different than what they look like on the outside, and there’s no easy, simple, three-question process you can go through that will shed any light on that. You can’t learn everything about a person in a few minutes. There is no such thing as a simple person. There’s no such thing as a person without a story.

So don’t think you can understand where someone is at because they like watching Big Bang Theory or Christmas Vacation. And don’t label someone a wild-eyed right-wing conservative because they watch Fox News. Before you can know where someone is at, you have to know their heart.

That’s what matters. That’s where the real person lives. It’s so much easier to address the outside. It’s so much less stressful to focus on what we can see, but imagine what you’ll miss if you write people off because you’re only looking at what’s obvious. Imagine the opportunities that will walk right past you because you assumed that factory worker was just a factory worker.

No, we can’t see people’s hearts. Only God can do that. But we can stop focusing so much on the outside or on what culture tells us to look at, and we do spend more time getting to know the person underneath.